FSU English faculty members awarded National Endowment for the Humanities summer stipends for archival research

| Tue, 05/07/24
Associate professors Tarez Samra Graban and Lindsey Eckert
Associate professors Tarez Samra Graban and Lindsey Eckert were each awarded a $6,000 NEH summer stipend grant that will support their full-time work on humanities projects for two months.

Two faculty members from the Florida State University Department of English have received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities that will aid in their research this summer.

Associate professors Lindsey Eckert and Tarez Samra Graban were each awarded a $6,000 NEH summer stipend grant that will support their full-time work on humanities projects for two months. Eckert and Graban were among 97 researchers selected from across the country to receive a summer stipend, and the funds are part of $26.2 million in grants for 238 humanities projects NEH released in April.

The awards were a surprise for FSU since the NEH selected both proposals submitted by the FSU Office of Research. While institutions can submit two proposals, rarely, if ever, has the NEH awarded more than one summer stipend to researchers from a single institution and department.

“I don’t think we knew that each of us had applied until our applications were selected on behalf of FSU,” said Graban, a Rhetoric and Composition program faculty member. “That was my first moment of thinking, ‘Wow, two of us from a single department. This is amazing.’”

Graban’s NEH award will allow her to travel to Ghana and South Africa to complete archival research for her next book, titled “Rhetorika Afrika: Finding and Losing Feminist Discourses in the Transnational Archive.” The time Graban spends at the University of Accra in Ghana and at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, will mark her fourth visit to the continent since 2014 for research.

“The book is arguing for the ways in which archival memory and power interact to shape feminist legacies in certain parts of Africa,” Graban said. “I’m interrogating how the transnational consumption of archival documents reinforces certain beliefs about how African women can either lead or not lead on the global stage. More African countries have elected women to particular leadership roles than any other region of the world.”

However, as Graban explains, their legacies are not well documented, and in many instances, the elected women do not have archival or administrative control over their own legacies.

“If their country or region does not have a stable archive or library, those materials are often co-opted by wealthier institutions with neoliberal agendas,” she added. “As their materials become subsumed under other national narratives, it becomes more difficult to conceive of what it means or could mean to be a ‘feminist’ leader in Africa.”

Eckert, a Literature, Media, and Culture program faculty member, will conduct research at the University of Reading, just outside London, for her project, “Romanticism Bound: British Bookbinding and the Forms of Literature.” Her two months of research will focus on the Longman Group Archive. Thomas Longman was a bookseller who founded Longman Publishing, now known as Pearson Longman, in 1724.

Eckert will collect unpublished archival information about the Longman firm’s business records and their correspondence with authors and business partners. The materials will support a chapter in her forthcoming book exploring the history of 18th- and 19th-century commercial bookbinding and its influence on literary culture.

“We are used to going into a bookstore and seeing books with their covers popping out at us from display tables,” Eckert said. “While we are told not to judge a book by its cover, that is how we buy many of our books.”

Before the widespread use of bookbinding, buyers bought the printed text with no binding. They could send those pages to a binder to have them bound to individual specifications, meaning one person’s copy of a novel might look different from another owner’s copy.

“Around the turn of the 19th century, publishers started to sell books to readers already bound,” Eckert explained. “That is a really exciting moment in the history of literature, when people’s copies of the same book start to look the same, and you start to see the book as a unified object being presented to readers.”

Given the intense competition to have just one project funded by the NEH program, receiving two grants, and both of those grants from within a single department, speaks to the extraordinary work being done in the department, according to Andrew Epstein, professor of English and the department’s chair.

“This well-deserved national honor and recognition only further confirms that Dr. Graban and Dr. Eckert are doing important, cutting-edge research and that their excellent scholarly contributions are helping define the future of their fields,” Epstein said.

For more information on Eckert’s and Graban’s work and about the FSU Department of English, visit english.fsu.edu.